Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 5/5
As Aristotle once said, ‘No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.’ This quote encapsulates the entirety of Netflix’s wonderful new mini-series, The Queen’s Gambit. Serving up a delightful blend of period drama and a rags-to-riches story, The Queen’s Gambit stitches these two genres together with a compelling coming-of-age narrative about a brilliant but troubled young chess prodigy.
Like a chess game itself, every episode moves the narrative forward to its ultimate checkmate as we follow young orphan Elizabeth Harmon through the years as she competes at chess tournaments and tries to prove herself as the best in the world. On paper, it’s a simple narrative that’s been played out repeatedly in different mediums. Only here, it feels like it’s been given fresh legs thanks to an equal amount of empowering femininity and a troubled, haunting past for Beth to overcome.
A lot of the trouble (and where we start our tale) occurs following a horrific car accident. Beth is forced into an orphanage where she strikes up a dependency on pills at 8 years old. Finding solace and comfort from the janitor in the basement, Beth quickly realizes her talents lie with chess.
A few stumbles along the way soon dissolve in favour of this young girl finding a new lease on life, helped along by an adoption that sees her thrust into a new life altogether.
Isolated and shunned, Beth grapples with her abilities, addiction, fitting in at school and a difficult past across the 7 episodes available. To use that same chess metaphor earlier, this series goes out of its way to make sure every single move is methodically controlled, crescendoing into a beautiful and well written finale that brings everything together in the best possible way.
Accompanying the tightly written screenplay is a seriously impressive performance from Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays Beth. She’s been in a fair amount of movies over the years – most notably blockbusters Split and Glass – but here the role is much more nuanced and subtle.
The icy stares hide a more troubled demeanor underneath; the longing glances at her peers for companionship are quickly thrust away by her need to stay strong. The few moments of weakness that Beth dos face are hard-hitting and incredibly emotionally moving.
That’s to say nothing for the rest of the cast either, who all do an excellent job rounding out this ensemble. Everyone puts on a great performance here and it really helps feed into the cinematography and visual design of this -which are both fantastic. There’s echoes of Marvelous Mrs Maisel at play here, with long, sweeping camera movements and excellent costume design adding to the aesthetic.
That’s to say nothing of the soundtrack either which is simply exquisite, cleverly using certain songs from the time period to either show Beth’s isolation from mainstream culture or embracing it – such as Shocking Blue’s original version of “Venus”.
Every track here has been deliberately chosen, and that’s before mentioning the instrumentals which swing between tense and melancholy when they need to be.
What’s particularly great about The Queen’s Gambit though is just how consistent the storytelling is. Every character we meet along the way serves a specific purpose – helping or hindering Beth along the way. Every father figure feels like an echo of Beth’s poor upbringing and every champion brushed aside brings something new to the table for Beth to learn.
The Queen’s Gambit is an excellent mini-series. It’s a well-written period drama that not only tells a complete story, it does so with a visual flair and consistency matching the best this genre has to offer.
The episodes are perfectly paced, there’s a great deal of effort put in to make every character interesting and the story crescendos beautifully at the end to produce a wholly satisfying conclusion. This is a definite must watch and certainly a contender for one of the best shows of 2020.